Real Madrid fans not at fault for flare, say Barca officials

By Sam Goold

The crowd trouble which disrupted the Copa del Rey semi final was not started by Los Blancos supporters, according to Blaugrana officials

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Barcelona officials have confirmed that Real Madrid fans were not at fault for the flare that was hurled between supporters during the Copa del Rey semi-final.

Madrid inflicted a 3-1 defeat over Barca but the game was also blighted by off-the-field trouble.  

It was believed that Los Blancos fans had lit a flare in the upper-tier of the ground and thrown it into the Barca section.

However, according to a Barcelona official, an investigation has suggested that home fans were at fault.

“It was not a group of Real Madrid fans that threw the flare,” vice-president of social affairs at the club, Jordi Cardoner, told Catalunya Radio.

“We have verified where this flare came from and it was not there.”

Manchester City youngster Meppen-Walter jailed over driving deaths

By James McManus

The 18-year-old defender, who has been at the club since 2003 and has represented England Under-17s, caused a crash which killed two people and injured two more in September

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Manchester City youth-team player Courtney Meppen-Walter has been sentenced to 16 months in prison after causing the deaths of two people through dangerous driving.

The 18-year-old was behind the wheel of his Mercedes speeding at 56 miles per hour in a 30mph zone when he crashed into a Nissan Micra emerging out of a side street, killing both Kulwant Singh, 32 and his 37-year-old sister, Ravel Kaur, in the front seat.

The two victims originally came to the United Kingdom in 2001 after fleeing persecution from the Taliban. Ms Kaur’s two sons, aged 16 and 17, were also both injured in the collision while in the back seat of the vehicle, from which they are still recovering.

Meppen-Walter, who was given a driving ban of three years shortly after the incident took place in September of last year, pleaded guilty to two counts of casuing death by dangerous driving at Manchester Crown Court.

The City youngster had previously represented England at Under-17s level.

 

Drogba issue needed clarifying, says Schalke chief Heldt

By Miles Chambers

The German club’s general manager defended their decision to question the Ivorian’s eligibility, and it has been revealed that Edu’s contract has been terminated by mutual consent

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Schalke general manager Horst Heldt insists that the club were well within their rights to enquire about Didier Drogba’s Champions League eligibility after their 1-1 draw atGalatasaray.

The Bundesliga club revealed their intention to find out whether or not the Ivorian was permitted to feature in European competition after the last-16 first leg had been played, as the striker had recently arrived at his new Turkish team in controversial circumstances from Shanghai Shenhua.

Uefa, however, confirmed on Wednesday that it has rejected the Gelsenkirchen side’s protests, though Heldt defended Schalke’s Drogba complaint.

“It was important to get legal certainty,” he told reporters at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

“We want to beat Galatasaray sportingly, now that Uefa has responded. We will accept that.”

Schalke also confirmed on Thursday that Edu has left the club after the two parties scrapped his contract by mutual consent, and Heldt wished the former Mainz attacker – who has been on loan at Greuther Furth this season – all the best for the future.

“Edu approached us with the desire to leave,” Heldt said. “We’ve thanked him for his commitment to Schalke and we wish Edu well, personally and privately, for the future.”

Edu joined in January 2010 but has made just one appearance in the past two seasons, and, though his contract at the Bundesliga side was due to expire in the summer, he has joined Chinese Super League club Liaoning Whowin.

Sammer: Bayern’s core is world class

By Miles Chambers

The Roten sporting director believes his side have leaders all over the pitch, but refused to talk up their chances of winning the treble this season

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Bayern Munich sporting director Matthias Sammer has labelled the club’s core “world class”after their 1-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal on Wednesday.

The Bavarians are on course to claim an historic treble this season, and the former Germany international feels they have benefited from having big personalities where it matters.

“When we talk about leadership, I see Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dante, Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer as our core. They are world class, no question,” he told Spox.

“[Schweinsteiger] was very mobile, tactically excellent and he played with a charisma that has shown before but missed lately.

“The same goes for Dante and Neuer, and the incredible security they bring. Lahm has been world class for us for years anyway. This is important in these games that these players show their presence.”

Sammer was reluctant to pour praise on Wednesday’s goalscorer Robben, but admitted that the winger had scored with an excellent strike at the Allianz Arena.

“We appreciated all [the players’ performance], so I have not paid attention to individual players. He scored a super goal but we should be modest. We’re happy, yes, but we should have a sense of normality soon.”

Bayern are currently making excellent progress on all three fronts, but Sammer is refusing to talk about winning the treble.

“I am not speaking about this. I said during the winter break that you get what you deserve in the end. And now we should work on making that true and not to [band about] these words or phrases.”

Sammer also stated that no player should expect to play regularly, with Robben and Mario Gomez finding starts hard to come by of late.

“A strong, big club must be 15, have 16 regular players. We should stop talking only about the top 10; there are at least five or six players who are also [there or thereabouts].

“Accordingly, the team is always important, not the individual. Football is daily job, and currently issues are emerging that tomorrow may already be solved.”

Alba: I’ll go nuts if I score at the Bernabeu

By Miles Chambers

The Barcelona left-back found the net during his side’s 3-1 loss to Real Madrid on Tuesday, and is hoping to do so once more when the two sides clash this weekend

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Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba has claimed that he would “go nuts” if he were to score at the Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid on Saturday.

The Spain international netted a consolation goal in the Blaugrana’s 3-1 defeat to Jose Mourinho’s men at Camp Nou on Tuesday, which saw them eliminated from the Copa del Rey.

“If I score at the Bernabeu, I would go nuts!” he told DiR.

With coach Tito Vilanova receiving cancer treatment in New York City, Barca have not been at their best in recent weeks, but Alba was quick to stress that they are still fighting hard for the 44-year-old.

“Tito is a great person, he’s very humble, but he’s fights as hard as they come and we hope to have him back as soon as possible,” he added.

“We fight for him and for all of Barcelona. When we win, our victories are devoted to him.”

Alba rejoined the Camp Nou outfit at the start of the season after leaving the club as a child, and he went on to admit that he never thought he would get the chance to represent theBlaugrana again.

“When I left La Masia at 16, I thought my time with Barcelona was over,” he continued.

“At first I struggled a bit [on my Barca return], because I caught the flu and was pretty ill for two weeks, but after playing against Sevilla, everything went fantastically well and now I’m having a very good time, I feel great.”

The full-back also defender Lionel Messi, who has been criticised in the past few weeks after failing to make an impact in the losses to Madrid and AC Milan.

“There are players that make a big difference in [modern football], but no one else is as good as Leo,” he added.

“He’s a pleasure to have as a team-mate, and he has treated me very well from the beginning, with great humility, and on the field he keeps proving he is the best.”

 

From Barcelona to ‘Farcelona’: What has happened to the best team in the world?

The Catalans lost 3-1 at home to bitter rivals Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday, less than a week after losing badly at AC Milan – so just what is amiss at Camp Nou?

ANALYSIS
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

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If there is one thing Barcelona fans enjoy more than beating Real Madrid, it is defeating Jose Mourinho. And if there is one thing those same supporters like less than being beaten by the capital club, it is losing to the Madrid team coached by the Portuguese. Tuesday night’s loss, then, was particularly painful.

Following their latest disappointment, Barca have gone from being the world’s best to a team in turmoil – seemingly in the space of just a few weeks. Last Wednesday’s damaging defeat at AC Milan set the alarm bells ringing for the Catalan club. By Tuesday night, the fires were blazing. “There is no point in dramatising,” stand-in coach Jordi Roura remarked after losing to Madrid. Few fans will share that sentiment.

So where has it all gone wrong for Barcelona?

Milan and Madrid used similar tactics to frustrate the Catalans, breaking Barca by soaking up pressure and hitting the Blaugrana with quick counterattacks. Have Barca been found out? Not exactly, because most sides opt for such strategies against them, yet Milan and Madrid are better than the majority of those and the Catalans have looked less adept at both scoring and saving goals in recent times. Previously, however, such obstacles were often overcome with relative ease.

February is invariably a tough month for Barca and Roura admitted as much afterwards, although he also alluded to three tough fixtures in six days. True enough, and the reality is that the Catalans’ conditioning and training programmes plan for them to peak in the later months of the season after a dip in winter. By that time, however, there may be nothing left to play for.

BARCA’S FIVE DEFEATS IN 2012-13
Opponent
Competition Result
Real Madrid (a) Supercopa Lost 2-1
Celtic (a) C. League Lost 2-1
Real Sociedad(a) La Liga Lost 3-2
AC Milan (a) C. League Lost 2-0
Real Madrid (h) Copa del Rey Lost 3-1

More worrying than fitness for Barcelona right now is form – particularly in defence. Having conceded goals in their last 11 games before the Clasico, the Catalans shipped three on Tuesday and, worse still, captain Carles Puyol looks to be losing his powers. Wholehearted, but pulled out of position against Milan, the veteran defender was turned too easily by Angel Di Maria for Madrid’s second on Tuesday and looks to be approaching the end of a wonderful career, despite recently signing a new deal which will keep him at Camp Nou until the age of 38.
 
It had been hoped that Barca’s defence would improve after early-season injuries to both Puyol and Gerard Pique, yet the back four is still struggling and this is partly due to the team’s two attacking full-backs. Previously, Dani Alves’ attacking was counter-balanced by Eric Abidal staying back on the left and Sergio Busquets dropping deep into defence, but with Jordi Alba starting on the left this term, both men seem to spend more time in advanced positions and that leaves the defence vulnerable to quick counterattacking football – as Madrid showed on Tuesday.

Tactically, Roura has been unable to organise the defence and the team looked fragile on the right side of the back four on Tuesday, as Alves and Pique were caught out of position and Puyol was dragged across. Pique also gave away the penalty which handed the initiative to Madrid and failed to jump high enough to stop Raphael Varane from making it three in the second half.

Meanwhile, with Pep Guardiola gone and Tito Vilanova recovering from cancer in New York, Barca have been stripped of the two men who led this project from the outset in 2008 and Roura is looking less like a man who can lead this team to further triumphs.

Indeed, many Barcelona fans feared the worst when they saw the team for Tuesday’s match. Ever since the Milan game, it had seemed as if David Villa would at last get his chance. The Spain striker played and scored on Saturday, has been praised all week by the Catalan press and was even lauded by Messi. Yet come Tuesday night, his name was not on the teamsheet. It should have been.

By the time Villa was introduced, Barca were already two goals down. It was too late. With Messi disappointing for the second big match in a row and isolated both times, the striker would have given Barca something different, an added threat. Having remained at the club in January amid speculation he could leave, he will wonder what exactly he needs to do in order to start at the moment.

With Villa on the bench, Cesc Fabregas began alongside Xavi in midfield and Andres Iniesta started on the left of the side’s three-man forward line. But Cesc was anonymous again, Xavi struggled and Iniesta is never quite the same player when he is fielded further forward.

Whatever happens now in the remainder of 2012-13, the Catalans’ commanding lead in La Liga means they will likely have a trophy to celebrate come the summer, yet the Primera Division has seemed a foregone conclusion for some time and will feel something of a hollow triumph if they cannot turn around their first-leg deficit in the Champions League against Milan.

The Copa del Rey is gone now, while the club’s European hopes hang in the balance. Play like they did on Tuesday and Barca will not make it beyond the last 16. In order to beat Milan, defensive adjustments must be made, while Villa needs to come into the side with Iniesta returning to his rightful role alongside Xavi. Against the bigger teams, Barcelona appear to have forgotten how to do what they normally do with their eyes closed. They need some of the magic back quickly, because if not, what promised to be an all-conquering campaign will merely finish in farce.

Magath: Bayern are the best club in Europe

By Tom Maston

The veteran coach believes that the Bundesliga leaders are Champions League finalists in the making and that Pep Guardiola could struggle to move the team forward

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Former Bayern Munich coach Felix Magath believes the current side are the best in Europe and feels they will reach the Champions League final.

The 59-year-old, who trained the Bundesliga leaders for three years between 2004-2007, says that the team is playing better than it ever has done before, and he praised both current coach Jupp Heynckes and his predecessor Louis van Gaal for their work.

“After Barcelona’s defeat at Milan you have to assume they are [the best side in Europe],” he told Die Welt

“I am convinced they will reach the Champions League final. They are playing better than ever before.

“In any case, I have never seen them better. They have been able to play on that level since the start of the season. If they continue to keep it up chances are good that they can win the title.

“Jupp Heynckes does a great job. Without diminishing his work, I believe, the current shape Bayern are in, the extreme position play is down to Louis van Gaal. The club profits from the work he has done.

“Heynckes has taken on the structures and elaborated them, that is as important and valuable.”

Magath also speculated about the future of the club under Pep Guardiola. The former Barcelona trainer takes over in Bavaria at the end of the season, but the former Germany international feels he could struggle to take the team much further.

He added: “FC Bayern have hired a top man, but expectations will be enormous. This can also turn out to be a problem if expectations are fuelled which, as they are too high, he has to fall short of.

“When I say Bayern play better than ever before, [I ask] how could Guardiola make them better? And just imagine if Jupp Heynckes wins three titles. There’d be none left for Guardiola.”